Whale Fall

(i)

 

Last night you heard men shouting, swearing,

saying the whale had got free, the rope had

snapped and they had watched it swim off blindly,

suddenly bewildered at its freedom when

just seconds ago it was set to become the ribs

and handle of a lady’s summer parasol.

They talked of going after the wretch today.

You remember your dream last night:

a huge whale swimming on and on,

holding its breath and going down deep,

deeper, far below the point where light

touches anything, where there are no words

fit for this kind of darkness, and this is where

it shuts its eyes and puts its belly to the seafloor

so that its skull might one day shelter sea

monsters or its bones might be mistaken

for some great shipwreck

but not for a thousand years.

 

 

(ii)

 

There is a phenomenon called ‘whale fall’ (n., singl.),

which is a dead whale that has drifted down to the abyssal zone,

the deeper section of the midnight zone that is never touched by sunlight.

The whale’s skeleton, stripped bare of soft tissue, transforms here

into an ecosystem of organisms, supplying nutrients to a community

of deepwater scavengers over a period of decades. Whale falls are

normally located by sonar technology, and have been mistaken

for broken bits of airplane fuselage

and wartime submarine wrecks.

 

The place below the point

where whales fall is the hadal zone.

There is nothing here except certain kinds

of jellyfish and tube worms and the darkness

is only sparsely interrupted

by bursts of bioluminescence.

You can still see them when you shut your eyes.